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Megan Smolenyak
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Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, that's her real name) is a real life history detective who loves to solve mysteries. You might have spotted Megan or her handiwork on Top Chef, Who Do You Think You Are?, Finding Your Roots, Faces of America, Good Morning America, the Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, PBS, BBC and NPR.

She's the author of 6 books, including Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing and Who Do You Think You Are? (companion to the TV series) and conducts forensic research for the Army, coroners, NCIS and the FBI.

Among her “greatest hits” are:

* Discovering Michelle Obama’s roots (as featured on front page of NYT)

* Celebrity roots as seen on assorted TV shows (e.g., Martha Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Brooke Shields, Cory Booker, Susan Sarandon, Emmitt Smith, Richard Blais, etc.) and in her writings (e.g., Betty White, Katy Perry, Joe Biden, Beyonce, Julia Roberts, Josh Groban, Pink, Prince, Jon Stewart, Bruno Mars, etc.)

* Tracing Barack Obama’s roots to Moneygall, Co. Offaly, Ireland

* Correcting history by revealing the true story of Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island (as featured on front page of NYT)

* Providing a decade of forensic consulting to the U.S. Army to locate thousands of family members of soldiers still unaccounted for from WWI, WWII, Korea and Southeast Asia

* Using her sleuthing skills to help coroners and medical examiners locate the next of kin for unclaimed persons

Follow her on Twitter, Facebook,, or HonoringOurAncestors.

Entries by Megan Smolenyak

Lou Szucs: Genealogical Hero

(1) Comments | Posted March 31, 2015 | 12:16 PM

Lou Szucs (right) and daughter, Juliana

When I was growing up, we used to have heroes -- people who were widely admired by all. But now it seems that we love to topple our heroes off of their pedestals and few can survive...

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Sean Hayes Discovers Family's Criminal Past

(2) Comments | Posted March 28, 2015 | 11:47 AM

Seán Hayes at the Listowel Arms Hotel (real title of the book is At Home in Ireland)

Have you ever noticed that everyone's favorite episode of Who Do You Think You Are? is not necessarily the one featuring their favorite celebrity,...

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Angie Harmon Understands the Power of Walking in Your Ancestors Footsteps

(4) Comments | Posted March 19, 2015 | 3:46 PM

Angie Harmon and her daughters, proud roots and an amazing gene pool (courtesy of TLC)

This Sunday on Who Do You Think You Are? (March 22, 2015 at 10/9c on TLC), Angie Harmon -- who always thought she was Greek, Irish and Native...

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Exclusive Video: Josh Groban Discovering Remarkable and Controversial Ancestor

(4) Comments | Posted March 13, 2015 | 7:55 PM

(courtesy of TLC)

Josh Groban knows little about his mother's lineage, so sets out on a journey to learn more about the maternal side of his family tree on Who Do You Think You Are?, airing this Sunday, March 15 at 10/9c on...

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Who Do You Think You Are? Returns With Julie Chen

(0) Comments | Posted March 7, 2015 | 1:14 PM


The wait is over! Who Do You Think You Are?, the popular celebrity roots show, is finally back on Sunday, March 8th at 10/9c on TLC. Kicking off the season is Julie Chen who ventures to China (a first for the series) and...

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Historical Accuracy as Prison?

(0) Comments | Posted February 17, 2015 | 8:47 AM

Bilge Ebiri opens his article, "Oscar Films and the Prison of Historical Accuracy," saying, "You know it's Oscar season when the historical-accuracy hit squads show up." The genealogist in me bristles.

But read it all, I tell myself, and I do. And as I continue, I can't help...

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Photo of Barack Obama's Irish Immigrant 3rd Great-Grandfather, Fulmoth Kearney, Discovered

(0) Comments | Posted December 19, 2014 | 8:36 PM

Family Resemblance? (Image of Fulmoth Kearney used with kind permission of Merlyn White)

It was seven years ago when I identified Fulmoth Kearney of Moneygall, Ireland as the most recent immigrant on the maternal side of Barack Obama's family tree. Inheriting...

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Fulmoth Kearney, President Obama's Irish Immigrant Ancestor, Gets a Tombstone

(0) Comments | Posted December 18, 2014 | 7:39 PM

Back in 2007, I researched then-candidate Barack Obama's roots and identified one of his third great-grandparents, Fulmoth Kearney of Ireland, as the most recent immigrant on his mother's side of the family. Thanks to a pair of tombstones in Ohio, I was able to pinpoint Moneygall...

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4 Celebrities Named for 'Who Do You Think You Are?'

(1) Comments | Posted December 16, 2014 | 8:28 AM


It won't be long until genealogy fans and history buffs can get another hit of watching celebrities time travel to their roots. TLC's next season of "Who Do You Think You Are?" begins on February 24th. Celebrities announced to date include Bill Paxton,...

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Melvina's Descendants, Michelle Obama's Cousins

(3) Comments | Posted October 20, 2014 | 9:32 AM

Back in 2009, I traced the then-new First Lady's family tree back four or five generations on all branches, but of all the ancestors I uncovered, it was a great-great-great-grandmother named...

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The Most Ellis Island-y Celebrity Ever: Tom Colicchio

(6) Comments | Posted October 13, 2014 | 9:39 AM

Immigrant Snapshot of the Family Tree of Thomas Patrick Colicchio

Six of my eight great-grandparents were immigrants so I thought I had Ellis Island bragging rights. Even though 40 percent of Americans have Ellis Island heritage, I figured there couldn't be many who...

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5 Things You Didn't Know About Anthony Bourdain's Roots

(13) Comments | Posted October 8, 2014 | 7:05 PM

Like grandfather, like son, like grandson? Pierre M. Bourdain, Pierre Bourdain and Anthony Bourdain

He doesn't know it, but Anthony Bourdain and I have ever-so-lightly crossed paths before. Several years ago, he wrote about a roots-centered episode of Top Chef:

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Even First Ladies Have to Deal With Red Tape

(0) Comments | Posted September 12, 2014 | 11:38 AM

With the Ken Burns docu-series The Roosevelts: An Intimate History airing shortly on PBS, this seems a good time to share a snippet of their family history. Specifically, the pages that follow are excerpts from Edith Kermit Roosevelt's file regarding a widow's pension for the service of her husband, Theodore...

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How a TV Show Reminds Us How Cool Libraries Are

(0) Comments | Posted August 26, 2014 | 3:26 PM


Once upon a time, TLC stood for "The Learning Channel," and while that's no longer the case, that hasn't kept the network from sneaking a little book-learning into this season's "Who Do You Think You Are?" Viewers come for the celebrities and stay...

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Was David Duchovny's Family From Ukraine or Russia?

(8) Comments | Posted July 30, 2014 | 3:50 PM

There's been quite a fuss about a nationalistic, Russian beer commercial David Duchovny made not long ago -- especially given that he recently discovered that his roots are actually in Ukraine. For obvious reasons, this is less than ideal timing. As a genealogist who also has...

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Bruce Springsteen at Ellis Island

(1) Comments | Posted July 16, 2014 | 8:34 PM

Those who love "The Boss" or are intrigued by family history will appreciate this charming video of Bruce Springsteen accepting the Ellis Island Family Heritage Award with his mother and her two sisters. He speaks of his colorful, immigrant grandparents, of being "a son of Italy, of Ireland, and of Holland," and of his feelings toward immigration in general. His friend, Brian Williams, served as host of the event, and both made mention of the well known, Italian-Irish mating tradition of New...

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Genealogy on TV: 28 Celebrities and Counting

(5) Comments | Posted June 5, 2014 | 9:47 AM

A pair of Valeries: Valerie Bertinelli tapes for Who Do You Think You Are? in London and Senior Advisor to President Obama, Valerie Jarrett, learns about her heritage in Finding Your Roots

If you're...

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Consider Donating Your War Letters for Memorial Day

(0) Comments | Posted May 22, 2014 | 9:22 AM

letter to Dad in Vietnam

As Memorial Day approaches, our thoughts naturally turn to those who have served in the military over the years and generations. Memorial Day is, of course, about remembering their sacrifices, but there's something else you can do no...

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Roots Recipe for Tonight Show Host Jimmy Fallon

(0) Comments | Posted February 10, 2014 | 11:14 AM


Not yet forty, Jimmy Fallon already has an impressive history to look back on. Between Saturday Night Live and hosting Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, he's logged more than a decade on air, and is now primed for his take over of The...

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They Say It's Your Birthday -- But It's Not

(0) Comments | Posted December 31, 2013 | 9:03 AM

Annie Moore with her brothers Anthony (l) and Philip (r) at Ellis Island

A hundred and twenty-two years ago, on Jan. 1, 1892, Ellis Island opened its doors and welcomed its first immigrant, Annie Moore of Ireland. As the first to arrive, Annie was briefly famous making headline...

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